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Product development based on 3D-printed cellulose bio-aerogels

School of Product Design

, Applications accepted all year round Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

An aerogel is a porous material derived from either an inorganic or organic gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The wet-gel requires conversion to a dry state where air is dispersed throughout the gel network. The drying step aims to eliminate or minimise the capillary forces that are present during the evaporation of the solvent. For example, freeze-drying involves the freezing and subsequent sublimation of the solvent (i.e. water) at low pressure, while minimising collapse of the gel network structure. Consequently, aerogels have some of the highest known porosities and specific surface areas amongst all materials, making them attractive for a variety of potential applications, particularly in medicine and biosciences. Aerogels based on bio-derived materials (e.g. biopolymer, proteins, etc.) are specifically referred to as bio-aerogels.
Recent developments at UC by Huber have made it possible to 3D print cellulose and cellulose derivatives. The cellulose ink is typically made via a dissolution-gelation process and is subsequently 3D printed using a bioplotter to create complex, 3D shapes based on cellulose. 3D structural designs that were previously impossible to manufacture from cellulose are able to be printed using a solvent exchange and freeze-drying process that also preserves the porous structure of the cellulose gel precursor. The resulting cellulose-based bio-aerogels are highly microporous, while simultaneously having a complex 3D macroscale form.
The morphology and properties of cellulose bio-aerogels depend on the processing conditions and cellulose type. Together with possibilities to chemically and/or physically modify the base polymer, a wide variety of aerogel properties and applications is possible. The project will aim to fully characterise 3D-printed cellulose bio-aerogels in order to develop a strong understanding of the relationship between processing-printing conditions and physio-chemical properties, while exploring potential end uses that add value to product development (e.g. enhanced sustainability, eco-friendliness, material texture and/or haptic design).
The project aims to ideate a wide range of novel ways to use the material in product design based on the properties of the cellulose-based bio-aerogels. Gathered data will allow us to assess the feasibility of developed ideas, and to identify those ideas that have potential to be developed into prototypes. Prototypes will be manufactured and tested for their physio-chemical properties and consumer reception to find the most suitable product for commercialisation.

Interested applicants with a strong academic background and engineering degree, background knowledge of 3D printing, biopolymers and/or material characterisation, and strong interest in product design and development, are encouraged to apply.

Funding Notes

This project is funded through a School of Product design (SOPD) PhD scholarship ($21,000 per 120 points of thesis enrolment in PROD790, plus tuition fees) and a collaboration between the SOPD and Department of Mechanical Engineering at UC. The ideal candidate is able to support the SoPD in the form of teaching assistance, for which financial compensation will be offered (up to $6000 p.a.) in addition to the scholarship. To be eligible for a scholarship, an applicant must have met all of the requirements for enrolment in a doctoral degree at the University of Canterbury (View Website).

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